By Christina Berger
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe
STRASBOURG, France — The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) recently ruled that Italy violated the ban on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment in deporting a man to Tunisia in 2009. The deportation took place despite the ECHR’s repeated requests at the time to stop the transfer due to the risk of torture the man faced once in Tunisia.
Ali Ben Sassi Toumi, a Tunisian man married to an Italian, was sentenced in Milan, Italy in 2007 to six years on charges related to international terrorism. His sentence was remitted and he was released in May 2009. Toumi was then detained in Italy while awaiting deportation. During that time, the ECHR communicated on three separate occasions the request to stay the transfer based on the opinion that Toumi was at a significant risk of being tortured once returned to Tunisia and deportation would seriously hinder the Court’s ability to rule on the protection of Toumi’s asserted rights.
Toumi applied for asylum in Italy, but was denied because he had been convicted of a serious crime. He was forcibly returned to Tunisia in August 2009, where he claims he was held and tortured for 10 days by the Tunisian authorities before being released under threat to keep his silence regarding his detention. Toumi’s Italian lawyer was denied access to him during that time.
The Italian government maintained that Toumi had only been held for three days while he was legitimately questioned in connection with an international terrorism case, and that he had not been subjected to ill-treatment, a version of events the Court found unlikely. In asserting this claim, the Italian authorities relied only on information provided by Tunisian authorities.
The Italian authorities claimed they had relied on diplomatic assurances by Tunisian authorities before deportation that Toumi would not face ill-treatment and he would receive a fair trial once returned to Tunisia. The ECHR reprimanded Italy in the judgement opinion for relying on such assurances given that “reliable international sources” indicated that claims of torture and ill-treatment were not properly investigated by Tunisian authorities, who were “reluctant to cooperate” with human rights organizations.
Julia Hall, Amnesty International’s expert on counter-terrorism and human rights in Europe, said in response to the Court’s ruling that the “Italian government completely disregarded the European Court’s authority and used dubious promises from the Tunisian authorities to justify its actions. People cannot be sent to countries where they risk being tortured or otherwise ill-treated, under any circumstances, and assurances from a government known to torture cannot serve as a guarantee of safety on return.”
For more information, please see:
AFP — EU rights court censures Italy for Tunisian’s deportation — 5 April 2011
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL — Italy violated torture ban during Tunisia deportation — 5 April 2011
ECHR PRESS RELEASE — Another removal of a terrorist from Italy to Tunisia notwithstanding the Court’s indications and the risk of ill-treatment — 5 April 2011